After a 12-hour hearing on Thursday, members of the House Ethics Committee voted to dismiss all allegations that Gov. Nikki Haley illegally lobbied for her employers during her time as a state representative. Follow our live blog for updates on the story as they develop:
Haley attorney Butch Bowers is giving his opening statement before lawmakers begin calling witnesses. Attorney Ben Mustain, who is presenting the case against Gov. Haley, just finished outlining GOP power-broker John Rainey’s allegations that then-Rep. Haley illegal lobbied for Wilbur Smith in the dispute over the South Carolina Farmers Market’s new location in Richland County, solicited money for Lexington Medical Center from lobbyist principals, and lobbied the Department of Health and Environmental Control while the hospital was seeking DHEC’s approval to build a new heart center.
Bowers has finished his opening statement, and Wilbur Smith official Robert Ferrell is now giving testimony about the accusations that Haley lobbied for the company. With respect to Haley’s alleged lobbying for Lexington Medical Center’s new heart center, Bowers argued that Haley pushed for the approval not as a LMC employee, but as a state representative while wearing her “legislative hat” only. See, there’s a difference!
The hearing is in a short recess so lawmakers can vote in the House on the budget. The first witness, Wilbur Smith executive Robert Ferrell, is still giving testimony, so this might take a while to say the least.
Ferrell denied that Haley ever used her influence to benefit the company, saying they only hired Haley because she was “sociable” and could help with business contracts. But even though Ferrell swore that Haley wasn’t involved in the Farmers Market issue, she did recuse herself from a 2007 vote pertaining to the Farmers Market — indicating she had a conflict of interest in the matter.
The hearing is back in session after a quick lunch break. Nelson Mullins attorney Thad Westbrook, who serves on the Lexington Medical Center Foundation finished his testimony describing then-Rep. Haley’s work for the hospital in getting a permit approved by DHEC. Time Warner Cable’s Dan Jones, who also served on the LMC board and has acted as a lobbyist in the past, is now testifying.
Time Warner Cable’s Dan Jones, who was a Lexington Medical center lobbyist before being appointed to the foundation’s board, just finished his testimony. Jones also said Haley was never hired to lobby for the hospital, though it’s already been pointed out that he would have been admitting to breaking the law if he had said anything else.
Former Department of Health and Environmental Control commissioner Earl Hunter is now testifying, so this may be about to get interesting. Hunter was forced out at DHEC after the agency’s “Savannah River Sellout” debacle, of which Gov. Haley’s office played an integral part.
Lexington Medical Center CEO Mike Biediger is now testifying about Haley’s employment and role at the hospital. Biediger said Haley was hired because “the number of people she knew” and her sociability could help with fundraising. However, Biediger did say Haley didn’t have any actual fundraising experience beyond her run for office
“Her personality, her ability to interact with people,” Biediger said were their priorities. “The fundraising part, we thought, could be taught.”
In other words, the hospital created a fundraising job paying over a hundred thousand dollars a year for a sitting lawmaker with little to no fundraising skills. What could possibly be wrong with that?
It seems we finally have the often-discussed “smoking gun” email outlining the political benefits of Nikki Haley’s
lobbying fundraising on behalf of Lexington Medical Center. In the final testimony of the day, a video deposition by Blue Cross/Blue Shield lobbyist James D’Alessio, attorneys discuss a 2007 email by former lobbyist Larry Marchant pressing BCBS to donate tens of thousands of dollars to the foundation.
“I’m still sucking up to Nikki in the event she comes on strong in the primaries,” Marchant told his bosses.
In other words, Marchant (who has done quite a bit of sucking up to Haley in the past, if you know what I mean) was telling Blue Cross/Blue Shield to donate money to Haley’s employers in order to gain favor with the representative in case she became governor.
Yup, sounds a lot like lobbying to me.
Gov. Nikki Haley is taking the stand in her ethics trial. Attorney Butch Bowers asked what GOP power-broker John Rainey, who filed the original corruption lawsuit against Haley, has against her.
“John Rainey is a racist, sexist bigot who has done everything in his power to try to hurt me and my family,” the governor responded, claiming Rainey wanted her to prove her family wasn’t related to terrorists.
Rainey will soon be asked to answer that charge on the stand.
The governor also denied doing anything wrong while
lobbying fundraising for Lexington Medical Center, despite Blue Cross/Blue Shield being led to believe a donation to the hospital would benefit BCBS if Haley became governor. ”We have contacts that most people don’t have, but I think it’s a question of what you make it,” she said.
Haley and her lawyers also went after Rainey’s attorney in the corruption lawsuit, South Carolina Democratic Party Chair Dick Harpootlian. “I find it very unusual,” she said. “I wish everyone else would as well.”
It appears former Board of Economic Advisors Chairman John Rainey will not be testifying after all, because committee members say former Ethics Commission Chair and Columbia attorney Greg Harris will be the last witness. There’s no word on why Rainey was not called given that he was subpoenaed. House Ethics Committee member Mike Pitts said earlier this month that he intended for Rainey to be the very first witness called, and Rainey has been spotted outside the hearing room all day. One imagines he might want to respond to being called a racist bigot, but that’s South Carolina politics for you.
Attorneys are giving their closing arguments. The lawyers presenting the case made clear that it was not their role to be advocates, which made it difficult at times to tell who was arguing for the governor and who was arguing against her.
It turns out John Rainey never testified because he was only on the defense’s witness list, not the presenters’. This essentially means that Haley’s attorneys intentionally subpoenaed Rainey but never called him, just so he would have to sit in the witness sequester room for 12 hours.
Petty is the name of the game here, folks — and I’m not talking about NASCAR greats Richard or Kyle.
The House Ethics Committee has unanimously cleared Gov. Nikki Haley of all allegations after deliberating for nearly two hours this morning. The committee’s lone Democrat, Rep. Laurie Funderburk, joined the four Republicans in voting to dismiss the allegations, though she disagreed with other members’ assessment that Lexington Medical Center and
“The distinction between the two was muddy at best,” said Funderburk.
Committee chair Roland Smith said today’s vote means the matter is essentially closed. ”Will everybody agree with this decision? Obviously not,” said Smith. “But it was a decision based on the facts presented before us.”